My review of the just-released sequel to The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, is here.
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read Mistborn (yet). But I’ve read The Way of Kings and Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books, and I’m a fan. I was looking for a standalone novel (ha!) and a steampunk book (which it isn’t, really) so (I thought) The Alloy of Law fit the bill. I would recommend it even to a Mistborn virgin. It’s not just navel-gazing, a victory lap of sorts. It’s a legitimate story of its own. It’s light on the world-building (and explaining), and I found it hard to keep up at times, but it was refreshing to be made to work for it, and I was able to understand what I need to.
If the test of the book is whether it convinced me to read Mistborn, I would say it succeeded even though I read The Allow of Law when it came out and still haven’t read Mistborn. On the other hand, I bought Shadows of Self on release day too.
The setting is probably most analogous to America at the turn of the century. Trains are the dominant form of transportation, early cars are beginning to hit the market, guns are accurate and reliable, newspapers are common, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers are being erected. Only the prologue takes place in a setting reminiscent of the Old West, but The Alloy of Law is as much a western as anything else. Wax, our protagonist, spent two decades as a lawman in the “Roughs.” He may leave at the beginning of the book to take his place as the head of his noble house, but he continues to think like one throughout. Wayne, his old deputy, soon searches him out after a series of high-profile robberies.
There are also shades of Batman, with the scion of a powerful family fighting crime while his butler looks on with disapproval. (I’ll make no comparisons between Wayne and Robin.)
Incorporating guns into fantasy has to be hard for any author. Wouldn’t one naturally dominate over the other? But here, the interplay between magic and guns is breathtaking. Not only is neither dominant, but they can be combined to produce a sum greater than its parts. Wax can “push” (and sense) metals. This allows him to speed up his own bullets for greater penetrative power, deflect his opponents’ bullets, sense when he’s being approached by someone bearing metal, and leap high into the air pushing off a bullet dropped on the ground (it also helps that his other power is to increase or decrease his weight). Pretty handy skills for a gunfighter. And it makes for some really great action scenes.
I wasn’t a fan of Wayne at first—as with Shallan in The Way of Kings, Sanderson was trying too hard with the witty dialogue—but he quickly grew on me, as did Wax and Marasi. They are a really solid trio. Wax is one bad mother.
In addition to a couple beautiful black-and-white maps, there are several “broadsheet” pages interspersed. Each Elendil-style newspaper page contains snippets of stories. Some directly relate to the events of the book. Others are just world-building. Very cool and not something I’ve seen elsewhere.
I only have one real complaint. The Alloy of Law is really only part of a story. Much as in The Way of Kings, there is an explosive (and extensive) action sequence in the climax, with twists that bust the story wide open revealed after. The difference is that The Way of Kings was sold as the first volume in a series of ten. The Alloy of Law was originally billed as a standalone novel. I’m ok being left with things to think about, but The Alloy of Law goes far beyond that. And, indeed, what was originally a standalone project, with the sequel Shadows of Self out this week and the final book in the series, The Bands of Mourning, out in January.